Office of Science Quality and Integrity

Responding to Requests for Copyright Transfer or Requests to Sign Publishing Agreements

Under provisions of the Copyright Act, Title 17 of the United States Code, "Copyright protection under this title is not available for any work of the United States Government…" (17 U.S.C. § 105). In addition, "Work of the United States Government" is a work prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person's official duties" (17 U.S.C. § 101). For United States Department of the Interior (DOI) policy guidance, refer to Departmental Manual (DM) chapters 454 DM 2 and 476 DM 4.3.

United States Geological Survey (USGS) works are routinely published by external parties as described in Survey Manual (SM) chapter SM 1100.4. Consequently, USGS authors receive many requests from outside publishing organizations for copyright transfer of work created by USGS employees as part of their official duties and receive requests from publishers or digital content-sharing organizations, such as Creative Commons, to sign publishing agreements. In these cases, USGS authors must inform the publisher that there is no copyright to transfer for their work.

A sample “no copyright to transfer” letter is provided in two formats (below) to assist USGS authors in responding to requests for copyright transfers or releases. The letter should be completed and submitted to the outside publication that has accepted a USGS researcher's article/abstract/manuscript for publication to inform the publisher of the USGS author's employment status and that, because USGS works cannot be copyrighted in the United States, there is no copyright to transfer.


When a publisher does not accept use of a USGS “no copyright to transfer” letter, or when a publisher or a digital content-sharing organization (such as Creative Commons) requests that an author sign a publishing agreement, authors should send an email to or call 703-648-7439 and leave a message. 


The following references are provided only as sources of additional information about copyright.


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